The bright red ribbon tied to deck posts in front of Options Thrift Store in Lake Ronkonkoma had barely fallen to the ground after being cut when the store's first sale was completed.
The customer, who had joined the large crowd gathered for the store’s grand reopening on Wednesday, had come in before the ribbon-cutting ceremony to keep warm, and took the opportunity to browse through the merchandise a little early.
“You’re the first!” said Linda Longo, community resource coordinator for Options for Community Living, the organization that runs the thrift store and provides services for people with special needs.
“I wanted to get out before it got crazy,” she said.
The thrift store, at the corner of Hawkins Avenue and Division Street in Lake Ronkonkoma, first opened about 20 years ago and was immediately embraced by the community, said Longo, who has worked with the organization since that time. The store not only provides a service to the community and brings revenue back to the program, she said, but is an important and valuable job-training program for the organization’s residents, who live in community or individual housing run by Options.
About three-and-a-half years ago, the building all but burned down in a fire, Longo said, leaving a void in the program.
“They just stayed put,” Longo said of the residents while the store was closed. “I would meet with them and talk to them about the store to keep everyone interested. And now, it’s wonderful. It’s like we were never closed. Every single person is back, the customers, too.”
Diana Arens, a co-founder and executive director of Options, said they started the store with a meager $5,000 grant, and it has grown over the years. She said Options for Community Living was founded in 1982 and services more than 1,000 families or individuals a year, providing community and individual housing, mental health services and contact to medical services for people with HIV/AIDS.
A large part of the organization’s mission, she said, is to help residents succeed in the community. The opportunity for residents to volunteer at the store advances that mission and helps the residents transition into part-time employment elsewhere.
“It’s a place where they can learn retail skills in a supportive environment,” Arens said. “And they gain self-esteem from doing something satisfying.”
Tonya Bond reached out to Options two years ago when she needed housing. Options accepted her into its program and moved her into a house in Farmingville with two other women. She had a temporary job placement, which ended recently, in time for her to accept a volunteer position at the thrift store while she looks for something permanent.
She said she’s excited to give back to the program and to help others.